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grab your coffee, sit back and hang out with the UD Honors Program for a while

Enrichment Award Reports


Ryan Leonard in Jordan with Think Unlimited

When I arrived in Jordan, I wasn’t sure what to expect. All I knew of the young NGO I had signed on to work for, Think Unlimited, was from a New York Times article that talked briefly about their work in the unassuming Arab country. Yet that article resonated with me so deeply that I sought out the founders, James and Shaylyn Garrett, to see if they would consider accepting an intern. It wasn’t a smooth process, but after 9 months of persistent communication and a Skype interview, they agreed to take me on as Think Unlimited’s first intern.

I soon learned the company was in a state of transition. They were moving away from the high school summer camps, termed “Brain Camps,” and teacher training, “Brain Builders,” to enter the university classroom. To help with this new phase, I was tasked with carving out our narrative in a regional context. That meant finding Jordan’s story amidst all sorts of books, articles, and reports on MENA-region education reform, the burgeoning Arab youth bulge, and the Arab Spring.



Although the bulk of my work involved research, I did get the chance to go work with one of our Brain Camps. In the conservative village of Taybeh, I lived with Peace Corps volunteers for a week to help run the camp activities and administer pre and post examinations to collect data for Think Unlimited. The goal of the Brain Camps is to teach critical thinking and creativity to Jordanian high school students through a series of activities and presentations. It wasn’t easy. Despite eight years of English, the students could hardly speak a word. Behavior problems persisted throughout the week, as it was near impossible to hold their attention for more than a few minutes at a time. I was admittedly disheartened, and I longed for my time in Tunisia speaking to the best and brightest young embassy students.

Jordan showed me just what I was up against. The truth about education reform in the Middle East, which is often criticized for its preference for rote memorization over critical analysis, is that change will not come easy. There are political, cultural, and religious barriers that are deeply entrenched within MENA society. 1 and 4 Arab youths are unemployed, and those with university degrees are no exception. Women are often, both voluntarily and involuntarily, shut out of the workforce, despite better test performance and higher university participation.  High-stakes tests, like Jordan’s Tawjihi, insulate high schools from creativity and innovation. My task seemed more daunting than ever.

But with Think Unlimited came hope. Wary of how difficult it was to change education at the high school level, our company turned its attention to the universities, considered the hub of the knowledge economy. Through a yearlong course in innovation and entrepreneurship, we hope to prepare a corps of social entrepreneurs that will seek creative and sustainable solutions throughout the region. To help with this, I sifted through thousands of pages of often technical writing to understand and explain our new image. My final report, accompanied with an hour and a half presentation to our staff, was well received.

In Jordan, it wasn’t all work for me. I saw the beautiful architecture of Petra, spent a few days in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and got the chance to meet Jon Stewart of the Daily Show. I learned more than I could have imagined about MENA region education reform and how Jordan fits into the discussion. Most importantly, I met brilliant, caring people that share my passions and goals for improving education in the Middle East. None of this would have been possible without the Honors Program and their generous Honors Enrichment Award.

Erika van ‘t Veld in Thailand at the Pun Pun Farm

I started my trip to Thailand wanting to learn about how people in a different culture live more sustainably, backed by their unique cultural views about the importance of nature and our duty to protect it.  When I stayed at Pun Pun Farm in the Mae Taeng region of northern Thailand near Chiang Mai, I thought the residents would be purposely living meagerly, at subsistence level, to put the environment first because of Buddhist beliefs.  In reality, the people there had mostly the same standard of living, just without the unnecessary luxuries that I am used to having in the U.S.  The residents, regardless of their religion and previous experiences, are people who opened their eyes and realized what a danger the ‘typical’ human consumerist-based lifestyle is to the planet.  They moved out to Pun Pun to break the cycle for themselves and concentrate on harmony with self, community, and nature, which I was able to do as well in this pristine setting.  The lifestyle I actually experienced was hardly as difficult as I thought it would be, if I stayed open-minded and flexible about some trivial aspects of life such as having no plumbing, warm showers, or walls that keep bugs and lizards out of a room.  Overall it was one of the most enjoyable and memorable experiences in my life so far.

Pun Pun’s main aspects can be divided into three categories, and from all three I learned some valuable lessons.  The first is organic gardening, and the gardens where volunteers and residents both work for 5-6 hours per day.  I learned the first day when I was out in the sweltering Thai summer day, plowing and weeding through the garden beds, that this work is extremely physically strenuous, and I gained a new appreciation for the millions of farmers around the world who do this every day to provide the food we eat.  It was inspiring to be involved directly in the process of garden-to-plate food production, especially since in the U.S. we hardly ever see where our food actually comes from. Pun Pun has 20 permanent residents and an average of 30-50 volunteers during tourist season, but the farm’s 9 acres are still able to provide 60-70% of the food consumed.

Erika’s room inside the earthen dormitory, complete with a mosquito net.

The second aspect of Pun Pun is natural, or earthen, building, which is constructing using naturally available materials such as straw, bamboo, mud, or ‘trash’.  All of the buildings at the farm were made using this method because Jon Jandai, the founder of Pun Pun, is an expert in this subject, and has traveled Thailand teaching other farmers his techniques. Not only is this a cost-effective way to build a home, it is also easy to do, sturdy, sustainable, and beautiful.  After living in an earthen dormitory for the duration of my stay, I can say that it is comfortable too.  The ease at which these earthen homes can be built makes me want to build one of my own someday on my own land.  It seems ridiculous to me now to take out a loan and spend half my life repaying it just to get a decent house in the U.S. when I can built one for virtually no money if I use this method.

Two varieties of amaranth seeds ready to be harvested and distributed to farmers all across Thailand.


The last and most emphasized aspect of Pun Pun is seed saving, or collecting and distributing indigenous seeds from Thailand to other interested organic farmers in the region.  The main seed that I worked on harvesting during my stay was from the amaranth plant, which required first picking the small bunches of seeds off the plant stem, rubbing them between my hands until the larger part of the shell came off, then sifting off the finer layers of shell until tiny black seeds emerge that are about a millimeter wide.  The patience that it takes to sit and sift and rub the seeds for hours just to get one teaspoon full of amaranth seeds that will be given away for free to other farmers, is something that is not easily attained.  The residents of Pun Pun realize that saving seeds is the future, so they work tirelessly and without any compensation besides reassurance that they are doing something great for the environment.  I think this is a great message for citizens of the world: we should all give up some of our time to take care of our mother Earth because even if it seems like we’re not getting anything in return, we’re really taking small steps to ensure a good life for our future generations.

Interacting with the kids on the farm was Erika’s favorite way to spend free time. Here she’s showing Ailsa how to fold origami paper cranes, which she loved to watch Erika do.


What I loved about Pun Pun was the feeling of community, and how I was immediately adopted into their family of residents just by being a volunteer.  To live on a mostly self-reliant farm means working, living, and socializing communally so everyone has to do less individual work.  It was encouraging to be surrounded by a group of people who enjoy living as part of nature so much.  It was most inspiring for me to meet Jon Jandai who taught me many life lessons that I will keep with me for the rest of my life. He said the critical thing for people to do around the world is to consume less.  Currently we consume so much and don’t give resources a chance to build back up, which is not a sustainable way to live.  To consume less and live an easier lifestyle, people can come to Pun Pun or make a farm on their own.  You only have to work a couple of hours a day, and spend the rest of the time as a family and learning more about yourself without any distractions.  He said “Life is easy, we just make it hard on ourselves”.  I learned it was my own expectations and prejudices about the difficulty of living a natural lifestyle that prevented me from trying to change my way of life.  Once these barriers were broken down, it really is the easiest, most rewarding thing to live on a place like Pun Pun farm.

On Erika’s last day at Pun Pun, Chanin (right), Pushpa (left), and she made pizza for all of the residents as a thank-you for their kindness. Nang (far left), a resident, approves of their cooking.

I feel so lucky and thankful to have received the Honors Enrichment Award and had the opportunity to travel to a place where everyday I woke up and saw a sight that was more beautiful than I thought was possible to see.


Lukas Campolo in Munich


Marienplatz, Munich

For the past three months I have been living in Munich, Germany, participating in an undergraduate research program through the Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich, and experiencing firsthand the German culture. It has been an incredible learning experience unlike any I have had previously. Before I elaborate, I would like to thank the University of Delaware Honors Program for giving the funding for travel to this program, and allowing me to participate.

Lukas working in the lab.

While in Germany, I have been researching in a lab under a German Professor, Dr. Thomas Bein. The work has been both fulfilling and successful, and has further shaped the development of my future career path. I was working on synthesizing and characterizing novel organic frameworks for future use in solar cells, as a cheaper alternative to silicon- based solar cells. The materials are quite new to the field of chemistry, so working in this lab was a great opportunity to work on the cutting edge of a species of compound that as of yet has been studied very little. In my twelve week program, I was able to synthesize and study a brand new type of these organic frameworks, which due to the dearth of these compounds that have been synthesized, is not a trivial accomplishment in only three months of work.

In addition to the work itself, I was able to make professional contacts with many different scientists, both in Germany and from the states. I have plans to keep in contact with my own research lab here in Munich, and to hopefully provide help on the future development of my project. I also was able to attend many talks and two conferences, one organized by LMU and the other organized by the program I participated in, DAAD RISE. This summer has exposed me to the cutting edge of solar-based nano-materials research, a growing and exciting field that I am now considering entering upon graduating.

Lukas and his new friends at the highest elevation in Germany, Zugspitze.

But, I did far more than just work in a lab this summer. Living in Munich and conversing with the locals has given me insight into a completely different mindset. What is most interesting is that the Germans are in many ways just like Americans; yet, there are also many differences in opinion and lifestyle. In Munich especially, people are quite proud in their heritage, going as far as wearing lederhosen regularly. They also have completely different opinions on issues such as public health care, higher education, taxes and conservation of the environment. Especially interesting was being in Germany during the NSA/Snowden scandal, as the citizens here were very informed and opinionated about government surveillance, and always interested in discussing it with an American. Being exposed to these different ideas through firsthand discussion has opened my eyes to new opinions, a worthwhile experience as a young person. I was also able to travel around much of Germany and the surrounding countries. I saw many fascinating historical sights, and learned much about the history and culture of Europe. From wandering around the canals of Amsterdam, to climbing up to a castle in Prague, I have gained an appreciation for a history that goes back far earlier than the US.

All in all, I had an incredibly educational, fulfilling and, most importantly, fun summer. Even as I write this I already miss Munich, and plan on returning to Europe as often as I can.

Scientists enjoying the view after a day of learning at the Heidelberg RISE Scientific Conference, in Heidelberg, Germany.



Joe Zarraga in the Philippines with Operation Smile

For the past two summers, I have been privileged to be able to travel to Guatemala to partake in medical mission trips, loving the people I met and the work we were able to accomplish in just a few weeks. With medical school (hopefully) in the near future, I wanted to continue this journey to see and do more while I had the chance. Although a first generation American-Filipino, I had never actually visited the Philippines; I realized that this summer might be the last opportunity to do so for some time. With the help of the Honors Enrichment Awards, I was able to travel to the Philippines to finally experience my culture, while volunteering with an organization that I have respected for quite some time – Operation Smile.


After 26 hours of traveling, I arrived in the Philippines with an open mind, pledging to try everything that I could fit into two short weeks of touring the country. The pieces started to fit together and I started to recollect the stories from relatives that I have heard since childhood. The thick smog, endless traffic, and torrential rains were all present, right outside the airport exit.

However, when the smog clears and the storms cease, the Philippines shows a different side. Although filled with governmental corruption and high levels of poverty, one cannot help but find the country endearing. The people are pleasant and extremely hospitable, and the culture is centered around the value of respect. For example, when greeting elders, it is customary to take their hand and bring it to your forehead in hope of their blessing and wisdom to be handed down – this is called “mano po.”

I stayed in the two of the main metropolitan areas, Manila and Quezon City, for the majority of my stay. Known for their shopping malls, sky rise towers, and restaurants, there is no shortage of activities. In the United States, eating traditional Filipino cuisine is limited to rare occasions; I made sure to have my fill of dishes that I have not had in years.

oneofmyhostsone  oneofmyhoststhreeoneofmyhoststwo

One of my hosts in the Philippines, Dr. Santos, is a plastic surgeon, who informed me prior to the trip that I was welcomed to be a volunteer with Operation Smile, an internationally respected non-profit that hosts corrective surgery clinics for those who are born with cleft lip and palates. These gaps (in the lip or palate) can cause many problems including inabilities to eat, speak, socialize, and smile. For 30 years, over 200,000 children around the world have had free surgeries. I was lucky enough to witness these operations inside the operating rooms while asking questions, a type of exposure that most premedical students never have. In only three short days, the mission had over 80 successful operations and changed many more lives.

morelivesone manylivestwo

While volunteering at that same hospital, I came across a much more common case. This girl, less than a year old, was obviously malnourished and anemic, desperately needing a blood transfusion that the parents did not want (they could not afford it). Another volunteer and I made it our side project on our last day to do everything we could to care for this child. After driving around the rural town, we found a Red Cross, who sold us the blood that we needed. The cost? 1500 Pesos, which coverts to less than 35 US dollars.


This is the unfortunate reality of many countries around the world. While I have always been interested in medicine from an early age, traveling to these places and taking part in medical missions have solidified my career decision. Seeing the stark contrast between health conditions in first and third world countries inspires me to become a doctor, to be one day able to assist these deserving people in the best way I know how. Once again, with the help of the Honors Enrichment Awards, I have been reminded of why I continue my current academic path; it has shown me a glimpse of what my future can possibly be. This time around, I am even more thankful that my experience allowed me to visit the place that my parents called home; now more than ever, I feel proud to be a Filipino.

Kelsey Johnson at the Equine Science Symposium

When I first enrolled in the honors section of the Equine Management capstone course, I had no idea that the class would ultimately teach me more professional skills than any other class I have taken so far at the University of Delaware. As part of the course, a group of five honors students, including myself, were responsible for developing promotional materials, researching content, creating PowerPoints, and delivering presentations for an equine behavior short course. The short course was designed in partnership with the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension, which aims to educate the public on practical topics in agriculture. Thirty-five Delaware horse owners and twenty students in the non-honors section of the Equine Management course attended the short course. Not only did the short course itself teach me a wide array of professional skills, such as how to communicate effectively with an adult audience, it also provided the survey results and content that I utilized to write an abstract for publication. My abstract entitled “Engaging Undergraduate Students in the Development and Delivery of Equine Extension Programming” was accepted into the undergraduate competition at the Equine Science Symposium and published in a supplement to the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science.

Through the aid of the Honors Enrichment Award, I was able to travel to the Equine Science Symposium held this past May in Mescalero, New Mexico. Upon arriving in New Mexico, I was blown away by the beauty of the landscape, especially the lake right outside my hotel room. Mountains completely surrounded the hotel and conference center, and even though the land was a bit dry, the trees were still gorgeous.


As part of the undergraduate competition, judges analyzed my scientific merit, accuracy, clarity, organization, and use of visual aids in both my abstract and presentation. While I will admit that I was very nervous about delivering my presentation, it went extremely well. Afterward, many people came up to me and asked questions, stated how they wanted to utilize a similar program at their university, or complimented me on my confidence and enthusiasm when speaking (I hide my nervousness well). Receiving such positive feedback made me even more proud of my work; I was able to generate discussion to help increase the level of student involvement in cooperative extension programing.

Not only did this conference help me become a better presenter and teach others a novel way to educate their students, I was also able to meet many researchers and graduate students from other universities. Some of the people I met were the authors of journal articles that I had read prior to the conference, which was particularly exciting for me. I also learned new information in many categories of equine science, such as exercise physiology, nutrition, management, and education, through attending many presentations throughout the course of the symposium. On the final day of the conference, I even experienced the speed and power of Quarter Horse racing, which was both a unique learning experience and a lot of fun!


When the awards were announced on the final night of the conference, I was disappointed to learn that I did not place in the competition. However, my true mission at the conference was completed—to educate equine extension specialists and professors on how they could engage their undergraduate students in extension programming. Through my presentation and abstract, I was able to reach a large audience of professionals and promote the University of Delaware as a model for other universities. This meant more to me than any award.

From left to right: Dr. Carissa Wickens (Equine Extension Specialist, Equine Management Professor, and my mentor for this project), Ms. Jessie Weir (Dr. Wickens’s PhD student), and myself at the awards banquet at the close of the symposium.

From left to right: Dr. Carissa Wickens (Equine Extension Specialist, Equine Management Professor, and my mentor for this project), Ms. Jessie Weir (Dr. Wickens’s PhD student), and myself at the awards banquet at the close of the symposium.

Lauren Gallagher’s Internship at the UN

From mid-January to the end of March 2013, I worked as an intern in the political office of the US Mission to the United Nations in New York.  My duties included attending Security Council sessions and other negotiations to take notes, drafting memos regarding such meetings, and writing summaries of reports outlining the progress of various UN missions throughout the world.  I would also occasionally escort visitors through the US Mission and run errands for my colleagues in the office.  Because of tight security in the US Mission and the UN, I was unable to take photos of my workspace.  However, I can provide pictures of other aspects of my time in New York.  For instance, this is where I lived:


This is the view from my window and from the roof of the building:



This man was a staffer from the Danish embassy; I met him in a negotiation on Afghanistan:


Another view of the city:


This internship experience was invaluable to me, on both an academic and professional level.  Academically, my experiences in the office largely reflected what I have been taught in my courses at UD.  In the introduction to international relations course (POSC 240), for example, we learned how the process of negotiations generally develops, with discussions first over logistics like the venue of the talks and gradually progressing toward more substantive issues.  Several times in my internship, upon hearing my colleagues describe the steps they were taking to reach compromises with foreign governments, I witnessed this negotiation process in action.  Although these diplomats were not likely to be following a step-by-step plan the way I had been taught, I was able to see that the measures they took largely followed the rules I had learned.  Other knowledge from UD that played a key role in my experience was the understanding of how our political process and our system of government work.  What the general public, and even some foreign diplomats at the UN, often fail to realize is that America’s ability to actually encourage action by the UN is limited by the structure of our government.  Even when the staff of the US Mission is able to reach agreement with the missions of other countries on a resolution or a treaty, for instance, these arrangements have little to no real-world effect in the US without approval from other branches of government.  I observed an example of this when our office was working tirelessly with other countries to negotiate an arms trade treaty to impose stricter rules regarding the movement of weapons worldwide.  After months of painstaking negotiations, a compromise was finally reached in the UN and a treaty with language acceptable to all sides was drafted.  However, this treaty will not be binding in the United States unless it is ratified by the Senate.  Even as our diplomats were aggressively trying to complete the treaty, they were well aware that it stood little chance of garnering Senate approval.  This experience highlighted to me how domestic political concerns can interfere with and complicate negotiations with other countries.

In addition to strengthening the knowledge I have learned at UD, this internship experience has helped me in my contemplation of a future career.  My favorite aspect of working at the US Mission was the writing of memos and report summaries.  Indeed, my time at the UN has convinced me that I do not want to pursue a career in diplomacy.  However, because the writing aspects of my internship were my most enjoyable (and elicited the most praise from my supervisors), I have become more assured that I would like to work in a field, like journalism or publishing, that involves writing.  Another valuable aspect of this experience is the contacts I have made with my colleagues.  I am proud to say that everyone in my office was very pleased with my work, and several expressed willingness to provide letters of recommendation in the future.  Even if I do not ultimately end up working in government, the relationships I have formed in my time at the US Mission will be useful in my future job search.  With such sincere recommendations from people whom I’ve come to greatly respect, I feel confident that I will at least be able to “get my foot in the door” of whatever industry I ultimately choose.  Overall, my internship at the US Mission was exciting, interesting, educational, and beneficial, and I will be forever grateful that I was able, through the generosity of the Honors Program, to participate in such an experience.


Victoria Stanhope’s MEDLIFE Spring Break Trip


Spending spring break in Ecuador delivering medical care to unreached communities was the best decision I have ever made in my college career. This experience was all made possible by the Scholar Enrichment Award and for that, I am truly grateful.  For seven days I assisted in medical care delivery, built a bathroom, and explored the foreign land of Ecuador. I learned what serving truly means by interacting with the Ecuadorean children and connecting with the community.

The primary mission of this trip was to deliver medical care to several villages that legitimately have zero chance of receiving health care otherwise. Eight communities were reached, two each day for four days, and received basic examinations by a doctor, dentist and gynecologist. The adults learned about sexual health, nutrition, cancers, diabetes, and other illnesses at an education station while the children received instructions on brushing their teeth and washing their hands. I was taken aback by the overwhelming eagerness these individuals had to learn about their health. I had expected slight hesitation because foreigners were intruding on their communities but it was entirely the opposite. MEDlife did an incredible job being culturally sensitive: the medical team was comprised of local Ecuadorean professionals while the instructions and pamphlets were written in the local language. Personally, I served in the doctor, pharmacy, and education stations and learned how essential the simple medications were for them to receive.

Working in the pharmacy station, handing out medications prescribed by the doctors at the medical clinic

Throughout interacting with the adults and children, I learned that serving does not mean solely providing physical effort – it means caring about these people and showing them love through mental, emotional, and physical acts of selflessness. Individuals were so excited for us to be standing next to them that they just wanted to hold our hands – it did not matter to them that you could not speak Spanish well or verbally communicate, they just wanted your company and love. That is what I really learned this trip; it’s the people that matter, not the service you provide.

Spending time with the Ecuadorean children after clinics had finished

Along with our health promotion mission, all 54 of us took rotations assisting in the construction of a community bathroom. These communities drink the water they excrete in. And bathe in. At least 80% of these children have parasites because of it and it’s an outright disservice to them not to be moved to help. Along with this, I could not help but realize how joyful these children were when I interacted with them. After the clinics we played games with them and their smiles lit up the city, but in the doctor station I saw all of these reasons for them to lack that joy. But they never stopped smiling. It makes you wonder how Americans would react if they were in these children’s places.  The bathroom will prevent a gigantic amount of the parasite infections that inflict this community and allow them to pursue education and a better quality of life.

Distributing vitamins to school children upon their arrival to the medical clinic

At the end of the week, the community’s overwhelming gratitude for the bathroom actually made me feel that I didn’t deserve all of their thankfulness – all I did was put in a few hours wheel-barrowing rocks and sand. Of course I would do this to help them, it would never cross my mind to do otherwise. I didn’t deserve their thankfulness – I should have been the one thanking them for allowing me to serve them with the limited skills I had.

After the clinics had run their course, we daily explored Ecuador and fully immersed ourselves in what the country had to offer. We explored the dark depths of caves, slopped through the thick vegetation in the Amazon Rainforest, sped through the murky rivers on canoes, and buzzed around the bright markets of Quito. This country is amazing. Every day was something new that made me fall in love with the land, the people, and the lifestyle of Ecuador. It was all I could do not to stay behind and live there for the rest of my life. The Ecuadorean joy and satisfaction sharply contrasts the whiny want of Americans and it’s been an adjustment to return. There are so many other experiences out there to be had, people to show love to by serving them, and land to be explored. I want to experience it all!

As mentioned earlier, the Scholar Enrichment Award made this incredible experience possible and I am entirely grateful to have been given this chance.

William Rodowsky in Peru

Boarding the plane for Peru, I was unsure what to expect. After an evening layover in Miami spent exploring South Beach, and an early morning layover in Lima, I arrived in Arequipa. Exiting the plane, I immediately noticed the three mountains that look down over Peru’s second largest city: Misti, Chachani, and Pichu Pichu, as Eduardo, my fifty-­‐something cab driver would explain to me in broken English.

Eduardo took me to the Volunteer House, where my roommates -­‐   five girls from Washington State, Australia, France, and New Zealand, met me at the door. After two days familiarizing myself with Arequipa, I reported to the Traveller Not Tourist office to pay my rent deposit and go to the orphanage. Another group, Operation Groundswell from Canada, happened to be in the office at the same time and asked if I would like to help them with a manual labor project before starting at the orphanage.


I agreed, and spent the next 3 days in Los Olivos, a rural community of stone houses at the base of  Misti. The project was to build concrete fence for Sr. Luna, a skinny, elderly man who lived alone. After removing his current fence of rocks, or piedras, we dug out the ground, set the foundation, and started to build the fence with the help of Renee, a local builder. After two days of digging and shoveling concrete mix into cement mixer, my hands developed sets of bloody blisters; even under the thick gloves I wore.

After my new Canadian friends left Arequipa, I started work at the orphanage (Casa Hogar). There were two daily shifts of part-­‐time volunteers who worked with the permanent volunteers, or tias,  who lived in the orphanage. When I was assigned the morning shift, I would wake up at 5:30 a.m. to leave enough time to shower and catch the combie, a smaller, overcrowded bus, to make it to Casa Hogar by 7 a.m. The afternoon shift went to 1 to 7 p.m. The only boy volunteering at the orphanage, I wasn’t immediately trusted to work with the younger children or babies, as they usually assigned this work to female volunteers. My first couple weeks at the orphanage I would sweep, mop the  floors, clean up toys, do the laundry, and anything else asked of me. When there weren’t any chores to do, I would play with the children.

Slowly, I became trusted with more and more roles. By the end of my time at the orphanage, I was feeding babies, taking the older kids out in the street to play, reading to them, and was asked to stay and eat lunch or dinner with the kids almost every time I worked.

With a week left on my trip, I took three days off from work to travel by myself to Machu Picchu. Leaving Arequipa on an overnight bus, I arrived in Cusco, where I spent a half-­‐day before taking a colectivo, or shared cab ride, through winding dirt roads to Ollantaytambo. From there, I took a train to Aguas Calientes, a small town at the base of Machu Picchu.

Waking up at 4:30 a.m. to pouring rain, I walked to the bus station to beat the crowd as part of the first wave of visitors. But over the course of my three-­‐hour tour and two-­‐hour hike of Machu Picchu Mountain, the weather cleared up. I returned to my hostel exhausted, sunburned, and satisfied with my trip.

Shreya at Gap Medics Program in Thailand

by Shreya Jammula

The Honors Enrichment Award enabled me to participate in the Gap Medics Program – Thailand. Gap Medics is a pre-medical program with participants from all over the world and has global sites including Zanzibar, Tanzania and Central Europe. I stayed with a group of 25 other students from Australia, England, New Zealand, Moldova, China & USA in the Gap Medics House. While most people stay for 2 weeks, I chose to stay for 3 weeks and every week, we had different placements often at different hospitals. My placements were general surgery, neurology and anesthesiology, which was very similar to general surgery. I was assigned a specific doctor as my mentor for each week whom I shadowed on patient rounds both in the hospital, to outpatient clinics and to the operating theatres.

The best part of this experience and the sole reason I wanted to do this program was because I could be in the operating theatres while the surgeons operated. As soon as I got to the hospital, I would change into scrubs & appropriate shoes, cover my hair and wear a mask before following my mentor to different surgeries. During my first and third week, I got to experience a broad range of surgeries including craniotomy, Caesarean section, knee reconstruction, laminectomy (spinal surgery), hysterectomy, cataract removal, colectomy, nephrolithotomy, appendectomy, cholecystectomy, lipoma and skin graft among others. My second week at the Neurological Hospital was different from my other weeks but no less enjoyable. I observed surgeries only twice that week, both of which were incredibly complicated surgeries that were upwards of 6 hours. The rest of the week was spent visiting the ICU, where the doctor presented to us patient charts and x-rays and asked us to diagnose the patient before taking us through the patient history and treatment plan; physical and occupational therapy, where we got to experience some of the equipment used on patients; stroke unit & dementia clinic.

Aside from work, we also had plenty of time to have fun! The program was located in Chiang Mai, which is an hour’s flight from Bangkok. Our house was situated 30 minutes from the city center in a secluded area. A typical workday was from 9-5 (could vary based on where you were placed) so after work, most of us would often go into town. After 5pm every day, the night bazar would open up, which offered us endless entertainment. Pretty much everything, from fake designer clothing to souvenirs to bootleg DVDs, can be found there! On the weekends, we did more sight-seeing and activities. My first weekend there, we went elephant riding, bamboo rafting and went to a waterfall – all in one day! The other day, we went zip lining, which was an amazing experience. My second weekend, I did more cultural activities, such as visit the Doi Suthep Temple and went on a tour of the famous White Temple in Chiang Rai. The tour also included a visit to the hot springs, Opium Museum and to an island of Laos that specializes in snake whiskey!

Best experience I had during my trip: got to observe an emergency craniotomy. A patient was rushed in because he had a hematoma (blood accumulated outside brain but inside skull), which was complicated by his history of epileptic seizures. I saw the surgeon cut open the skull, remove the massive clot, put the skull back on and suture the skin. This experience alone made the whole trip worthwhile – there was no way I could have ever seen such an emergency surgery in America unless I was already a doctor.

Liz  returns to Bangladesh

by Liz Hetterly

In this experience, I developed skills in qualitative research methods and learned about the social and economic environment that shapes the reproductive health of married adolescent girls in Bangladesh. In my previous trip to Bangladesh last summer, my work focused on designing a population-based survey and analyzing quantitative data. This winter I was very fortunate to complement that experience in quantitative research with skills in qualitative research. The majority of my trip was spent doing in-depth interviews with married adolescent girls living in urban slums, to determine their perceptions of family planning services, barriers to accessing these services, and their reproductive decision-making. I learned that married adolescent girls face significant pressure to meet social and familial expectations around when to have children and how many to have, and how this pressure along with poor economic conditions can affect their health and autonomy

I would tell students who are planning to go to another country to an Honors Enrichment Award experience to really do their research about that country beforehand. In my case, I had already been to Bangladesh once before so I knew exactly what to expect. But thinking back to my first time in Bangladesh, I know how helpful it was to have read up about the country beforehand – the history, the current political situation, the culture, etc.  The quality of your experience is often determined by the extent to which you can adapt to and engross yourself in the culture of that particular country, and that process is made easier by doing research beforehand to prepare yourself so you know what to expect. Before you go, read about the history of the country, find out who the most popular writers and artists are, buy a map, try to learn some of the language, meet someone from that country who lives in the U.S. and ask them for advice, find out what the style of dress is, etc. etc. Doing this, along with keeping an open mind, will determine the difference between an ordinary experience and an extraordinary one.

Andi Goes to Cape Town

by Andrea Diorio

My friends Lexie, Lauren, Morgan, and me with the kids at Fikelela.

This winter break I spent 3 weeks in Cape Town, South Africa with Cross Cultural Solutions, an international volunteer placement program. Each morning from 8:00am to 1:00pm, I spent volunteering with 3 of my friends at Fikelela Children’s Center, where we cared for and played with the children. Fikelela, which means “to reach out,” serves as a temporary home for children, ranging from infant to age 8, who are in the process of looking for foster care. These children have been orphaned, abandoned, abused and/or neglected by their parents. Many of them were left at the hospital after birth, left at a social worker center, or taken from their homes by a social worker due to abuse or neglect. South Africa has very strict adoption laws, so in order to adopt a child, he or she must be under 6 months old, and it must be proven that his or her parents are deceased AND his or her grandparents are incapable of caring for them. Because of this, adoption occurs very rarely and foster care is much more common.

Fikelela is located in the Khayelitsha township, the biggest one in Cape Town with over 1 million people living there. These townships are made up of homes, but nothing like what we’d consider an actual home here in the U.S. They are mainly made out of scrap metal and are smaller than what we’d consider a shed or garage. Seeing these living conditions in person was unbelievable, nothing like how it feels to see it in a picture or movie.

A view of the townships. In this overcrowded area, most of the homes are built from scraps of metal.

After volunteering in the morning, I either had free time or a cultural and learning activity with our program. I, along with the rest of my program, were able to do a variety of new and fun things, like going to tour Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela had been imprisoned, and eating ostrich and crocodile at a traditional African restaurant, and even spending an evening learning about the history of South Africa and how far it has come. I learned more about South Africa than I had ever expected. As the world’s youngest democracy (democratic since 1994), the history of the country is actually quite similar to the United States, just decades and decades behind. They are headed in such a positive direction, yet the poor effects of apartheid still linger with racial segregation as a very apparent and noticeable issue there. Learning about its history and current political climate and then being able to see it myself, whether while volunteering or exploring the city, was something I will never forget.

The greatest lesson I will take away from my time in Cape Town is that money and material things really cannot buy you happiness. Compared to what we are used to, these kids have very limited resources and really are not getting the attention, both physical and emotional, that they deserve. However, these were some of the sweetest and happiest kids that I have ever met. They don’t know what iPads or iPhones are. They don’t get to eat at nice restaurants. They have the very minimum but they are still so happy and loving. And although hearing that is inspirational, being able to see it and experience it in person was so real and eye opening. Those children will always have a very special place in my heart and saying goodbye to them was one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever had to do. But just like South Africa itself, there is so much hope for their future and I pray that they each grow up to meet the potential that I could see in each of them.

Mel Goes to Ghana

by Melanie Allen

On the local FM radio providing environmental education programs to the community and advertising the clean up event with Executive Director Samuel Obiri.

For Blue Hens, Winter Session is a perfect opportunity to travel. During this time, one has the chance to go home for a few weeks after finals, enjoy some home-made cooking and holiday celebrations, then hit the road! This is my third Winter Session spent travelling, however this trip was very different to my prior adventures trips which were primarily for recreation.  Upon receiving an Honors Enrichment Award, I spent the last four weeks working with a locally run NGO in Ghana that focuses on environmental conservation issues.

My most recent travel to Ghana this past summer inspired my decision to apply for an Honors Enrichment Award. I had the opportunity to work in the Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences Department at the University of Cape Coast, where I assessed the water quality of three lagoons heavily used for human consumption. My project revealed that these lagoons were only able to support a limited number of species, and those that were able to survive in these waters were considered pollutant tolerant organisms able to withstand hostile conditions. These findings were not surprising as when I visited these lagoons for sampling, pollution was extremely noticeable with evidence of an unsustainable public waste management system. I conversed with several professors at the University of Cape Coast, inquiring about the root of the problem because I was having difficulties understanding why little had been done to clean up this area that local people utilized on a daily basis. Was it lack of research or education? Inadequate infrastructure? Were the locals aware that pollution was the primary cause of the recorded decrease in size and occurrence of blackfin tilapia, one of the primary sources of protein for this coastal community? Unfortunately, due to the brevity of my stay in Ghana and commitment to direct lab work, I had little interaction with the affected community to find answers to these many questions. When my summer abroad came to an end, I felt both my personal and intellectual quests in Ghana were left unresolved.

Upon return to the U.S., my investigation continued as I dove deeper into understanding how environmental degradation was approached in a developing country. A professor that I worked with over the summer connected me with, CEIA, the Centre for Environmental Impact Analysis. This organization integrates environmental concerns into various policy fields and takes a community based conservation approach to Ghana’s challenges by focusing on public awareness and environmental education.

One way that CEIA has approached this is by establishing environmental clubs in primary and junior high schools in the Cape Coast area, with the intention of encouraging eco-friendly behaviors and interests at a young age. These clubs were started in 2009, but since then have been fairly inactive due to little intervention from CEIA after establishment.  One of the main projects that myself and another volunteer were working on was enhancing educational materials for these clubs to use during their meetings. This involved creating a “curriculum” for these clubs, focusing on a variety of environmental topics such as pollution and waste management, water quality, climate change and habitat loss.  We would visit the clubs weekly to better understand the kind of activities they were currently doing, as well as ensure that the faculty advisors had input on what topics were being incorporated in these lesson plans. Each lesson plan had a two page summary explaining what the issue was, group activities to complete as a class, discussion questions, and a take home message to encourage the students to engage their families in these topics.

The other main project I had the chance to be involved with was organizing a community clean up exercise at Fosu lagoon, one of my sampling sites from the summer. This involved a collective effort, and the cooperation of multiple stakeholders. We asked the professors from the Department of Fisheries to participate in an education seminar that was held prior to the clean-up, discussing past research and results conducted in this lagoon, as well as the adverse health risks from consuming fish in polluted waters. We also involved Cylcus Recycling, a company that buys back plastic garbage, one of the main waste found in these lagoons, to discuss how recycling has potential to bring in income for the community. Zoom Lion, a waste management company provided the tools for the clean-up, and the students from the Environmental Clubs served as the main clean-up volunteers, though we had several local fisherman and community members participate in the event.

From this experience I had the chance to discover how a collaborative effort between science, the government, and local culture can create and build solutions to urgent environmental challenges.

Working directly with CEIA enabled me to develop a greater understanding of a foreign culture and development and the Honors Enrichment Award has truly shaped my future endeavors.

Anada Marga Organic Peach Farm

by Jock Gilchrist

From January 6th to the 26th, I worked on the Ananda Marga Organic Peach Farm in the mountains of the Angeles National Forest in southern California. The name is a bit misleading, however—we spent several days uprooting dozens of dead and dying peach trees and transplanting young cherry, apple, pear, and persimmon trees in their place.

But every day on the farm was slightly different from the one before it. In addition to tree maintenance, we also harvested vegetables from two greenhouses, planted cover crops, gathered fertile black soil from the forest, cleaned up debris from the remains of an old trailer, planted vegetable seedlings, demolished a windmill, made baskets from chicken wire, planted cacti around the perimeter for security against unwanted animals, and cut lilac shoots to sell in the spring. The manual labor was challenging but incredibly satisfying, and we went to sleep at night feeling the tangible results of our work through the ache of our bodies.

The farm is owned by a monk who practices a combination of Tantric and Vedic traditions originating in ancient India. He spent around 3 hours a day in meditation and was surprisingly energetic for a man of around 50. Another volunteer and I took part in an evening singing ritual and half-hour meditation with him. Though the specifics of his religions’ philosophy didn’t strike a deep chord with me, it was interesting to be immersed in it for my stay there.

As part of his spiritual beliefs, and by virtue of the fact that it’s an organic fruit and vegetable farm, the diet was vegan, and also excluded garlic, onions, teas, and coffees, all of which supposedly have stimulating effects on the mind. There wasn’t a single processed food item in the house, and we baked our own bread every day and made nut butters often. This diet endowed me with ridiculous amounts of energy and left my body feeling happy and light. I’ve since made a more serious commitment to a vegetarian diet and buying unprocessed food and more vegetables.

The nearest town to the farm was a small one of about 500 people. In fact the farm was so isolated that we only left twice during my entire stay to travel to LA for a group meditation and dinner. The natural setting really gave me the chance to get back “to my roots,” so to speak. The house lacked several amenities that I realized I tend to take for granted, like heat and hot water. But the more dramatic absence was of the degree of social engagement I had become accustomed to at home and at school. For two weeks there was only one other volunteer and I with the monk (a third volunteer arrived for the last week). The withdrawal of the little comforts in my life ended up reminding me how blessed I am.

Also, being that there was no TV and slow internet and cell service, there wasn’t as much opportunity for entertainment and distraction. With the noise of our culture gone, there was nothing to do but face myself and my thoughts fully. This allowed me to do some real soul-searching about my ambitions, personality, and relationships to a depth that I don’t think would have been possible elsewhere. I left the farm feeling extremely invigorated and confident about the coming semester and what lies beyond that.

International Plant and Animal Genome Conference

by Casey Spencer

The generosity and support of the Honors Program allowed me to attend an international conference at which I displayed a poster of my research. Honestly, I did not know what to expect when I packed for San Diego. I was unsure if everyone would be in suits and heels or jeans and sneakers. I was relieved when I arrived and found that most people were dressed casually and seemed laid-back. I was clearly one of the youngest attendees. The informal atmosphere allowed me to feel comfortable even when most of the attendees had doctorates and decades of research experience while I am only an undergraduate with half a year’s worth of research.

I will be attending veterinary school in the fall and took this opportunity to explore different applications of genetics research in veterinary medicine. My research is focused on poultry genetics and feed efficiency. While it is an important field, I intend for my research to be medically groundbreaking. About half the speakers discussed animal genetics. I attended as many animal-based workshops, in which I learned about the genetic diseases of horses, dogs, cats, cattle and swine. Truthfully, I had no idea genetics was so present in veterinary research. As the conference went on, my excitement for my future profession increased and I was looking forward to developing research projects of my own.

At times the conference was beyond my undergraduate education. However, I managed to stay positive and focus on the objectives of researchers and rather than their exact methods of analysis, which always involved computer programming (something I have very little experience in). This was also my first opportunity for professional networking. It was hard to get passed the idea that experts in the field of animal genetics may want to hear what I have to say. But, with each day of the conference I gained confidence and a better grasp on my purpose there. I was able to ask speakers how they got involved in their current research and what opportunities there were in their field. At first it seemed foolish, but I reassured myself by thinking “everyone has to start somewhere.”

As the day of my poster session approached, my nervousness increased. I was afraid for potential questions people may ask me about my research. I was relieved when I got there and saw how friendly everyone was. The hour and a half I stood there felt like an eternity. Luckily, during that eternity I was able to talk to other students displaying their posters and learn how they got interested in research and their career goals. The people that did stop to inquire about my project were very encouraging once they found out I am an undergraduate. I realized there was nothing to be nervous about. In fact, their praise and support reminded me that I have been presented with an incredible opportunity to attend an international conference as an undergraduate. While at times I was frustrated with my inexperience in research, my lack of genetics knowledge, and not knowing my place at the conference, I stayed optimistic. I am excited for my future in research as a veterinarian. This trip, made possible because of the Honors Enrichment Award, helped me understand the connection between genomics research and veterinary medicine.

Jamaica Field Service Project Report

by Aimee Pearsall

 My name is Aimee Pearsall and I am a junior Music Education Choral/General Major with a minor in violin at the University of Delaware. I could not imagine a more perfect way to start the year of 2013 than traveling to Jamaica with the organization Jamaica Field Service Project (JAFSP.) This organization is a service-learning study abroad program offered through the State University of New York located in Potsdam. It offers students a chance to attend trips in Jamaica and focus either on music education, music therapy, or literacy. I chose the music education track, and I was given the opportunity to study Afro-Caribbean drumming in Jamaica while volunteering in local elementary schools and preschools to teach singing, drumming, and recorder. I could not have asked for a more educational, culturally rich, rewarding, or fun experience!

The first few days of the trip were filled with exciting excursions, relaxing on the beach, and interacting with the locals. We went on a hike that familiarized us with the lay of the land; the parish of St. Elizabeth is practically a desert! Here is a picture of the University of Delaware students that went on the trip. We also went snorkeling in a coral reef and saw beautiful creatures like the octopus pictured on the right!

Additionally, we went on a twelve-mile boat ride and saw dolphins and crocodiles up close. Later that day we swung from a rope swing into the Black river, and ate at a restaurant in the middle of the ocean, pictured below!

There is no doubt about it, teaching the children music was by far the highlight of the trip. Each evening, our trip leader held a training session where we were given teaching materials that we were to teach the next day in the schools. The group worked in two elementary schools and three preschools throughout the week. We taught the children singing, recorder, and traditional Afro-Caribbean drumming which is integral to the Jamaican culture. Because most of the children receive no formal music instruction and the Jamaican school system offers no music classes, the children were incredibly excited and grateful for the opportunity to learn music. It was wonderful to be able to teach children who were so excited about the prospect of learning. Additionally, at the end of the week, we were able to donate many drums, recorders, and school supplies to the schools, which means that music will remain a part of the schoolyard culture even now that we are gone. The point of teaching was not so much to teach the children all of the technical aspects of music, but to give them a good experience making music with one another so that they could continue to use music as an emotional and fun outlet to bond with their peers, family, and neighbors.

The final aspect of the trip that I found so wonderful was learning about the Jamaican culture. Each evening our trip leader held a drum circle, where we as students and staff bonded through our music-making. Our trip leader, Eric Wills, lives primarily in Jamaica throughout the year, so he was able to provide us with candid information about the Jamaican culture that would have been hard to learn on our own. He told us stories of how Jamaicans overcome poverty, tales of how many Jamaicans still participate in voo doo, and how drumming is used at traditional ceremonies and at dead yards to celebrate the life of the dead. This gave me a new sense of responsibility to pass down the drum beats that are integral to the culture to the children so that the drum beats do not continue to die out. I truly felt immersed in the Jamaican culture, which was very important to me, so that I was able to interact with the local people in a respectful manner, and teach the children music in a way that helped to promote their culture.

I am so grateful for the University of Delaware Honors program for giving me the opportunity to go on this trip of a lifetime. I was able to help another country that was in need by doing what I love, teaching music. Seeing the joy on the children’s faces when they participated in music was so incredibly rewarding. I was not only able to help another community, but I learned a lot about teaching strategies, drumming, and another culture that will help me to be a better educator.


VIDA Summary Report

by Rebecca Aiello

For the first two weeks of the new year, I had the opportunity to travel with the VIDA volunteer program, as one of 40 students pursuing medical, veterinary, or dental careers. VIDA, which stands for Volunteers for Intercultural and Definitive Adventures, is a non-profit organization working in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. Students, such as myself, under the direction of bilingual doctors, veterinarians, and dentists, learn valuable skills in the field of their choice, while providing free services to communities in need.  My trip began in Costa Rica, and ended in Nicaragua twelve days later. In that time, I learned valuable veterinary skills, made lifelong connections, experienced a new culture, and brushed up on my Spanish.

The trip was based around six clinic days, where we worked from 8am to 4pm (sometimes later!). We set up our clinics at three different sites – the first was a Red Cross building, the second an old gymnasium, and the third a church. As part of the veterinary team, I helped in intake, surgery, and recovery.  We learned how to examine the patients, taking vital signs such as heart rate, respiratory rate, pulse, and capillary refill time. We also checked for skin infections, skeletal problems, and fleas and ticks. If the patient was to be spayed or neutered, we would prepare the necessary medications, including anesthesia, antibiotics, and analgesics, and administer them. I also learned how to place an intravenous catheter and intubate animals in preparation for surgery. During surgery, I would either assist the veterinarian performing the operation, or monitor heart rate, respiratory rate, and temperature throughout the procedure. Once patients were out of surgery, they entered into recovery, where we would continue to monitor vital signs to ensure a proper recovery. The veterinarians we worked with were eager to share their knowledge, and very helpful. Our patients were usually dogs, although we examined a few cats. One group even did a consultation for two rabbits. With a team of four veterinarians, and fifteen student volunteers, we were able to see over 250 patients in only six days.

For four days in Nicaragua, we were in homestays. I was placed with two other girls on the veterinary team, and we shared a room in our family’s house. The houses in Nicaragua are like nothing I have ever seen before, and it was a great opportunity to really immerse myself in the culture. It was a bit difficult to communicate with our host “mama,” because she did not speak any English, and my Spanish is minimal. However, she had two daughters, and the older one, was able to translate for us when she was at home. The daughters brought us around town, to a market, and into Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. Touring Masaya, where we stayed, and Managua, with local people really personalized the experience for me. On the last night of our homestays, we had a farewell fiesta, complete with traditional music and dancing. It was a wonderful end to our short stay in Masaya.

We traveled by bus to each location, and the winding roads of Costa Rica made for long trips. When crossing the border to Nicaragua, we spent a total of eleven hours on the bus! However, we were able to see mountains, lakes, towns, coatis, iguanas, monkeys, and even two volcanoes.

While the clinics were an amazing learning experience, I was excited to participate in the other events that VIDA plans for their volunteers. In Costa Rica, we spent a day in the shadow of Volcan Arenal, which was Costa Rica’s most active volcano until 2010. There, we were able to swim in hot springs, which are naturally heated by the volcano. In Nicaragua, we took a latin dance class, where we learned dances such as salsa and merengue. One morning, we visited a local day care, where women who work in the market could bring their children. We donated coloring books, toys, stickers, and bubbles, and played with the children for a few hours. That afternoon, we had the opportunity to zipline canopy mombacho, one of my favorite parts of the trip. On our last day in Nicaragua, we took a boat tour around the Islands of Granada, or “Las Isletas,” a group of more than 300 islands off the coast of Granada.

My Adventures with VIDA in Costa Rica and Nicaragua

by Sarah Weiskopf

Earlier this month, I traveled to Costa Rica and Nicaragua on a medical volunteer trip through the organization VIDA. The clinics were very different from what I was expecting. Instead of each patient being seen privately, all patients were seen in one large room. Our job as volunteers was to record basic patient information, obtain a medical history, take blood pressure, and ask questions about what brought the patient to the clinic. When we were done, we reported our findings to a doctor, who would then explain both to us and to the patient what the problem was. The patients coming to the clinics rarely saw a doctor, so when they had the opportunity to do so, they told us every problem they could remember having.

We saw many cases of parasites, fungal infections, and problems associated with drinking unpurified water and cooking with wood smoke. Most patients received some kind of medicine. At first, I surprised by the amount of medications that the doctors prescribed, but I soon realized that much of it was ibuprofen or cough syrup, things that we buy over the counter here in the United States. Although these drugs are available over the counter in Costa Rica and Nicaragua as well, many of our patients could not afford to purchase them.

Our patients were extremely grateful, and even if they had to wait most of the day before they could be seen, they almost always thanked us and told us we were welcome back anytime. The Nicaraguan town of El Arenal showed us their gratitude by giving each of us handmade bracelets that many of the residents sold at the market. It was very touching!

During our six clinic days, we saw over 365 patients.

The clinics were very rewarding and educational, but there were also many other memorable experiences from this trip! In Costa Rica, we visited natural hot springs. As we drove through the country, we saw some amazing views, and even got off the bus to see wildlife and some of the largest iguanas I’ve ever seen.

Nicaragua was also a very beautiful country, but even right from the border, you could tell that the citizens were not as well off as those in Costa Rica. Our first stop in Nicaragua was Masaya, where we lived with host families. My host mom did not speak a word of English, so my Spanish definitely got some use! It was interesting to talk to the host families  see what daily life and cuisine is actually like. I can honestly say I have never eaten so much rice and beans in my life. We also participated in other community activities in Masaya, such as a community soccer game, tag with some of the local children, and a visit to a daycare. I also got to go zip lining through the jungle, which was very cool!

After Masaya, we traveled to Granada, the oldest colonial city in the Americas. There were some beautiful churches there, and we also took a tour of the surrounding islands, which were gorgeous. One of the islands had very friendly monkeys, and several people from our group fed them crackers!

My trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua was an amazing experience that I will never forget. I met many interesting people, got to experience what life was like in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, learned a great deal, and helped out people in need. I would highly recommend volunteering with VIDA, and anyone who is interested should visit: http://vidavolunteertravel.org/

Jess is living la VIDA  servicio

by Jess Applebaum

I spent two weeks volunteering in free mobile veterinary clinics in Costa Rica and Nicaragua with a the nonprofit, VIDA (Volunteers for Intercultural and Definitive Adventures). The words unbelievable, eye-opening, and extraordinary are all understatements as to how fantastic this trip actually was, and a 500 word blog post is not nearly enough to describe everything.

I got more hands-on experience than I could have imagined. Working in pairs, we did checkups and gave injections on our own. We learned how to prepare patients for surgery and assisted in several spay and neuter surgeries where we actually got to make cuts and tie sutures. We managed the recovery station where we monitored vitals as patients recovered from anesthesia, wrote prescriptions in Spanish and prepared take-home medications before returning animals to their owners. The veterinarians that worked with us were absolutely amazing and were so willing to share knowledge, answer questions and trust us to perform important tasks. As a team of 15 students and four local veterinarians, we treated 203 animals.

We also had recreational days which included a day at hot springs heated by the Costa Rican volcano, Volcán Arenal, zip lining on a canopy tour in Nicaragua, a community soccer game, salsa dancing lessons, a day at the largest market in Nicaragua, and a boat tour in Granada, the oldest city on the continent. We saw lots of wildlife and fed chocolate to some wild monkeys. I enjoyed living with a host family in Masaya, Nicaragua and getting to know locals. I played a game called libre, similar to tag, with children, and spent time before clinic teaching them English. The neighborhood kids called me  “Profe,” short for “Professora” or Teacher. As a Spanish minor, it was a great opportunity to practice Español and learn more about where they come from. Even though we come from two completely different places, we have a lot in common.

There were also some heartbreaking moments on the trip. Many of the dogs we treated were sick with a variety of diseases, most extremely thin with intestinal parasites. They were also severely abused. Owners beat their dogs with whatever they could find: tree branches, metal chains, shoes. This made working with animals difficult because they were aggressive, biting and scratching us on multiple occasions.

Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the world next to Haiti. Many people can barely afford food for themselves, let alone a pet. Our clinics were set up in places with limited resources, one being on a basketball court outside of a school. It was heartbreaking to see patients with conditions we couldn’t treat under the circumstances.

One of the most touching experiences was when a mother cried after I gave her a package of children’s underwear from the US. I also donated some pajamas to children outside our clinic, and a little boy took a girls set, so happy to have pajamas even though they were pink. Where I lived, all water was contaminated, there was no such thing as a hot shower, and we had a septic system that only sometimes worked, but locals remained positive and were very friendly and welcoming.

Thank you to the VIDA staff and everyone who helped make this trip possible. Thank you to everyone who gave me donations to bring, and thank you to UDHP for funding part of this trip. It was a very rewarding experience. I feel like I have a home away from home in Nicaragua, and I hope to return again one day to further help the people and animals of Latin America.



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